Co-parenting is difficult as it is, without the added pressure of having to interact with someone you would rather not see. At the end of the day, your children need both of you, and they will continue needing you even as they grow into adults. Thus, it is important to cooperate by first communicating effectively.
Here are some tips to help you communicate with your former spouse. These tips will enable you to break through the tainted lines of communication in order to better serve your children and yourselves. In truth, effective communication will help everyone get along and move forward with life.
1. Consider Your children
The first, most important factor to consider in a divorce is how the children are doing. When communicating with a spouse, take a step back and make sure the conversation is moving forward in a way that benefits the kids. It will be easier for you to communicate with your spouse if you place your children above any emotions you may feel after the divorce.
2. Pick your battles
While many couples can find a whole host of topics on which to argue, it’s a good idea to select the fights that are worth fighting over.
3. Personalize Your Statements With "I" Messages
Incorporating the word "I" into conversations with a spouse will present feelings in response to an action, rather than a potentially accusatory statement. Instead of presenting a scenario in which something was frustrating or infuriating, or embarking on a long narrative, you can use an “I” statement (e.g. “I feel frustrated”) in place of a more accusatory statement (e.g. “you frustrate me…”). In general, people are more cooperative when they do not feel like they are being attacked.
Statements that attribute blame to someone often put people on the defensive. Change strategies by defining the purpose of your message. If you would like your spouse to cooperate, it is best to craft statements that call upon their own notions of empathy and reason. By relating your personal feelings to them instead of directing your feelings at them with accusations, you will prevent a defensive reaction from your spouse and encourage collaboration.
This open, frank communication will help your partner connect to a tangible, real scenario experienced by you, and in turn, your communication will improve over time.
4. Be hard on the Problem, not the Person
Accusations immediately close the door to peaceful communication. Once one fighting word is wielded, another is sure to follow. If one spouse says, “The kids aren’t doing well in school because you don’t care enough to discipline them when they receive poor grades,” the other spouse is not likely to respond positively.
When harsh words are directed at a person, it is impossible to tackle a problem without fighting or hurting someone’s feelings. While the problem may or may not be someone’s fault, it is important to focus on the problem.
Keeping conversations clear of personal attacks will not only help spouses maintain effective communication, it will also nurture mutual respect.
5. Practice Active Listening
Make a conscious effort to not only hear, but understand the entire message being relayed to you. Additionally, it is essential to remain objective and non-judgmental when listening to the other person.
As people, we have the amazing ability to understand exactly how others feel, and since we are only human, we all make mistakes, go through difficult times or have differences in opinion. Thus, when your spouse is experiencing stress, cut them some slack and look at things from their point of view. It will be easier to parent your children together if you try to understand your spouse’s concerns, problems, etc.
7. Respect Your Ex’s Family
Interacting with your spouse’s family members is an often undesirable and awkward experience, but this interaction is inevitable as your child is connected to both sides of their family. So it is in everyone’s best interest to get along for the happiness and well-being of the children.
8. Exercise Courtesy In Conversations
Your children will depend on you for the rest of their lives, and so exercising courtesy will create a pleasant atmosphere for everyone. Allowing tension to infiltrate interactions with your spouse will likely make important events (e.g. graduations, weddings, family events, etc.) unbearable for everyone in the general vicinity of you and your spouse, so say “hello”, make small talk or generally try to be polite whenever you see them.
Leyla Balakhane is a distinguished and experienced mediator, facilitator, coach, and trainer in the Los Angeles area, specializing in high conflict divorce and family law. She is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association LACBA Arbitration panel where she arbitrates dispute concerns, fees, and costs. Leyla is also an active member of the Southern California Mediation Association. Her experience has led her to provide training in mediation at various universities and professional organizations. Leyla is an expert in the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and her approach to divorce is effective, compassionate, and economical. Leyla is praised for relinquishing grievances and encouraging parents to commit to strengthening their relationships. She focuses on win-win solutions that allows parents to collaboratively reconcile their issues while also tending to the best interests of their children.